Sunday, January 5, 2020

Therapy for sense of self

I thought this was related to the last post on the importance of sociopaths focusing on changing beliefs and acting according to beliefs rather than just conforming their behavior to social and moral conventions. I thought this conversation with a reader shows a bit what this belief change might look like, at least in part.

From a reader, under the subject line "Therapy for sense-of-self":

Hi -- in the November 30 post on, you mentioned that you'd had a setback a while ago in your therapy to develop sense-of-self. In your book you talk about not having a strong core sense of self as one of the hallmarks of a sociopathic personality. That hit me strongly, and was a powerful explanation for a lot of things I've experienced. While I'm working with a therapist (I'm highly functional) we haven't touched on this aspect yet.

It's trivial to put myself in someone else's psychological space and interact with them that way. It's highly effective at superficial relationships (i.e. business, casual), and that's the upside of the weak sense of self. The pitfalls of it in what are supposed to be close relationships, long term ones, are obvious. I honestly have no idea what working to develop a strong sense of self would even mean. Do you have any thoughts or insights into what you're gaining by working on this? Any resources you've found useful?

My response:

I almost feel like I should ask my own therapist what the particular type of therapy he did with me. The core exercise I remember though was to get me to realize that I had underlying preferences regardless of context. To get me to do that, he did a thought experiment in which when presented with a choice I had to imagine that there was no one else in the world. If there was no one else in the world, then I could not be tempted to consider how people would react and thus make a choice based on which reaction I would like, rather than just my preference. Does that make sense?


Thanks -- and yes, that's really useful. Kind of ironic that a group of people who are popularly considered not to care a bit for anything about other people are constantly modifying their behaviors away from what they would naturally do, to they point where they lose sight of the simple fact that they have preferences. To me, this feels a lot like the emotion work I've done with my therapist -- the emotions are there, but just very very quiet. So quiet that having grown up and lived in almost exclusively "loud" emotional environments, I thought I didn't have any at all. It takes practice and relative silence to be able to hear them, but I'm figuring out how to do it. Maybe it's so with the preferences too.

Really appreciate you sharing your experience.


  1. Replies
    1. I didn't want to impinge on his autonomy but I think it was probably inevitable he would experience things in that way - unless I were a zombie. Which I'm not.

      I tried to give him choices but it wasn't enough.

      I don't think it could have worked unless I'd ceased to exist.

      It's a shame because he was lovely.

      We saw a kitten in the drain yesterday. My son tried to give it a saucer of milk: he bared his teeth and shrank back. We couldn't coax him out, he was happier by himself.

      Some animals aren't to be tamed.

    2. Nest time, entice the kitten with fresh meat and grab it by the scuff of its neck. Most animals don't understand what is in their best interests.

  2. ME, I've mentioned a few times that I struggled to know my own feelings and preferences and that meeting **-* was revolutionary for me.

    Reading this post prompted a lot of reflection.

    I think I've said many times that I felt *space* with **-*. I remember being with him early on and just crying. I didn't know why but ultimately I realised it was repressed childhood grief.

    Then think because part of his method is to find the other's limits (I have shared theories about this before and why it's a functional thing for sociopaths to do), he eventually did find my limits. He eventually found points where I did push back. In those early days, I thought we were being very adventurous and it was so exciting, but in hindsight, he was just finding the point of discomfort for me so he could play on it for advantage, which he did on a weekly basis thereafter.

    My point is that he gave me space to feel and learn things that I both liked and disliked. Perhaps the space he allowed me - the opposite of being engulfed - was this occupation of another's psychological space, perhaps a kind of necessity for him. I don't know, I'm basing that idea on your post.

    And the boundary pushing necessitated reaction from me, as I indicated above, so that I wasn't annihilated. Perhaps I was so addicted to the psychological space he offered that the boundary pushing was tolerable. To a point. I learned to assert myself, to draw the outline of my being in an active process. Perhaps in a similar fashion to a teenager defying their parents.

    Since his teasing last week, he's gone quiet, which I predicted. It still frustrated me. But it's reached the point now where the following applies:
    - his stalking looks like he's wanting to kill my feelings so they no longer compel him AND / OR he's enacting revenge.
    - He's not delivering any benefit

    Stalking is no future.

    This means he can either collaborate or he can stop.

    I'm done with tolerating the stalking and will act accordingly. I tolerated it while I thought it was genuine communication, but it's actually confusion (not mine).

    So I will take this opportunity to define myself more - colour in my outline by dreaming. I tried this last week, just letting my mind come up with things I'd have liked to do with **-* or by myself or with friends, dreaming of things I'd like to do with work. It's not something I've ever really done before, but I like it. I think from dreaming comes vision and vision is all I need before I can execute.

    I don't think he and I can collaborate on a solution. And it didn't help for me to squash myself. That is not a solution to getting what I want from my life, even if what I want is him.

    I have to focus more on what I want to *do*. Keep dreaming, keep making choices. I have to be prepared to lose him, to stop fighting for him. Ultimately, it makes no difference what allowances I make for him: he still can't handle independent existence. So it makes zero sense to compromise at all.

    I think it does make sense to take a complete break from him and explore more of my own preferences. This is only the case because despite many collaboration requests, he hasn't responded. So going back to your method, ME, there needs to be some clear headspace before either of us can assess whether what we want actually aligns enough to re-try.

    Although sociopaths might not be aware of their own preferences, I still perceive personhood in him just as I do in others. I can see ISFPness, I can see meticulousness, I can see creativity and resourcefulness and competitiveness and gentleness and routine and musicality and a thousand other things that have me head over heels.

    Yet I risk everything and proceed to grow because diminishing anything of myself creates destruction in every single way: that's not the path.

    Time. He hasn't proposed any alternatives so that's what I'm going with.

  3. Something else I've been thinking about based on this post is that it makes a great deal more sense of why sociopaths often say that emotional people are trying to manipulate them. **-* routinely said I was manipulating if I were upset.

    I suppose if you are pulled by some gravity into another's psychological space, and that space is a jungle of feeling you're not accustomed to, it would be perfectly natural to despise it. You wouldn't have a clue what is going to happen next, it might feel like a tsunami. That makes complete sense.

    I think the key points are as follows:

    * People don't have / express feelings for the purpose of engulfing you. A person's feelings are integral to their being, a key part of their personal response to the environment.

    * Some people do our on emotional displays for the purpose of manipulation. Children and narcs especially. Most of us recognise this - it's called things like emotional blackmail. Normal emoting is not this.

    * I personally feel horrified that natural and valid reactions cause that sort of grief to **-*. That is 100% the last thing I would want.

    This is such a big challenge. I can understand why sociopaths walk away from emotional situations. As **-* says, they don't want to be pulled off their ground.

    I don't purpose any solutions. I did try things like saying he mattered to me instead of that I loved him, but based on his graffitied "YOU MATTER" stretching 12m on the footpath, I suspect that was a futile approach. I tried.

    I wrote to **-* that my feelings are my feelings, nothing to do with him. I'm not going to stop being so I am. I have a grieving process to go through so if he doesn't want me in his life, he just should not come here. He should not expose himself to me. I was here first.

    1. This really explains why he is a vortex of chaos. That, coupled with the attack is the best form of defence mentality. All dichotomies, extremes juxtaposed.

      It's mind blowing really. Upon reflection, he really did go to town with the level of control. From the external observer's perspective, such responses are a proxy measure for threat perception. This should probably be modelled and quantified. It's a bit fascinating.

  4. Also, he should be very clear that Tuesdays are not enough for me, especially since he had been stalking me more often than that, probably attending my home up to two or three times per week.

    None of his nonsense about not wanting a woman in his life or protecting innocent children or only wanting Tuesdays is gonna fly.

    If he wants a woman in his life, I'm here. He has the opportunity to think about what that looks like (and so do I). If he just wants Tuesdays, I'm not the person for him. We tried that; it sucks, I do not like it, I will not do it again.


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